Pregnancy do's and don'ts...

Monday, July 24, 2006
Women have been getting pregnant for centuries without too much bother, but now, the minute a woman falls pregnant, something strange happens to the people around her — they all become experts.

As the mum-to-be, you will be told what you can and can't do during the nine month incubation period. Everyone from your best friend, to complete strangers, will offer often contradictory advice on what's best for bub.

But who's right, and who's wrong?

We've short-listed the top nine common pregnancy taboos, one for every month, and some experts, to shed some light on the real do's and don'ts of pregnancy.

Taboo one: you can't drink alcohol

Alcohol is the biggest taboo of all — if you fall pregnant, you mustn't drink. But is this theory true? Will alcohol harm your baby?

For a start, forget the big night out, binging is the worst thing you can do.

"It's not the amount consumed over the duration of pregnancy, but the peaks, the short-term high level of alcohol in the blood crossing the placenta interferes with growth of the baby," says Robert Fraser, consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology.

Heavy drinking is clearly out, but contrary to common perception, it seems a small amount of alcohol, might not be totally taboo.

"Not more than two units, not more than twice a week, consumption at that sort of level, we can't find any scientific evidence currently published, which suggests these babies are going to come to any short-term or long-term harm. There are no benefits to consuming alcohol in pregnancy, so we would never advocate it," he says.

So, if you do drink, certainly have no more than two, twice a week. But given different women metabolise alcohol at different rates, there's really only one completely risk-free amount.

And that is, like it or not — none at all.

Taboo number two: don't touch kitty litter

Pregnant women are told to stay away from kitty litter. This is absolutely true, according to the experts.

It is very rare for a woman who gets infection in pregnancy for that infection to harm the baby, but there is one organism called toxoplasmosis which if the mum gets that infection during pregnancy, the organism can cross the placenta and actually cause developmental problems with the baby, and infection of the baby. If the cat has eaten uncooked meat and has got the parasites that way, the life cycle of the parasite continues and if you get contact with the faeces, and inadvertently just brush your hand across your mouth, you may ingest a parasite that way," says Dr Andrew Pesce.

The good news is, you don't have to give your moggie away, just get your partner to do the dirty work for a change — and of course make sure he washes his hands right after.

Taboo number three: you have to eat for two

This one is a classic old wives' tale and sounds logical enough but sadly, it's not true.

"Eating for two is definitely a myth. People are really surprised to know that the amount of extra calories or kilojoules you need in pregnancy is only about 200 calories, 800 kilojoules a day — and that is absolutely tiny. That's a cup of reduced fat milk and a medium orange," says nutritionist Clare Collins.

This is because your body actually absorbs more nutrients from food during pregnancy.

According to Clare, "The human body is absolutely amazing at the way it can accommodate and slow itself down to maximise food and nutrient absorption. So your calcium absorption increases, your iron absorption increases."

Depending on your build and size, a healthy pregnancy weight gain is between 10 and 15 kilograms. Gain more than that and you could run into trouble.

"Women who are obese who enter pregnancy they're actually more likely to develop gestational diabetes. What that means is that when their baby's born, apart from the problems it may experience straight after birth with control of blood sugars, it actually sets it up for a greater risk of type 2 diabetes later in life and heart disease," says Clare.

So stay within the healthy weight zone and both mum and baby will be better for it.

Taboo number four: stay away from electric blankets

This one is a yes. Electric blankets give off a low level electro magnetic field, which is a worry for foetal development.

So trade your electric blanket in for a hot water bottle and baby will thank you for it.

Taboo number five: don't exercise

Is exercising during pregnancy okay? The short answer is, yes and no. It just depends on what you're doing.

"There are some exercises that are fantastic to do throughout your pregnancy. These can include walking, aqua fitness, going for a swim, doing whatever you want in the pool, some low weight work, some low-impact aerobics as well if need be, Pilates and yoga would be absolutely fantastic for you," says fitness instructor Monica Rich.

Marisa (left) works out with MonicaA lot of women find the right kind of exercise helps them deal with some of pregnancies downsides.

"In the first three months, when I was going through the morning sickness phase, when I was exercising I was feeling better than if I wasn't," says mum-to-be Marisa.

What shouldn't you do? Avoid anything high impact, like horseriding, fast running, or heavy weight-lifting. This type of exercise can overstrain your joints, which are already loosened by the pregnancy hormones in your body.

"Things you need to be aware of, warning signs, if you are exercising, is going to be any vaginal spotting or bleeding, any dizziness, any changes to your baby's movements at all that you do become concerned about," says Monica.

So the right exercise is beneficial. But before you start anything new, talk to your doctor to make sure it's okay.

Taboo number six: don't have sex

Is sex during pregnancy okay? Unless your doctor tells you, otherwise, it's fine.

Taboo number seven: caffeine is off limits

Is coffee off limits?

There's no black or white answer on this one, it just depends how much you drink.

"The biggest risk for the baby if the mum's a heavy user of coffee — and that's over four cups a day — is actually miscarriage and even stillbirth," says nutritionist Clare. "You certainly can drink coffee but the safe amount is about four cups a day, 300 milligrams of caffeine that's equivalent to."

Dr Pesce adds to this: "In the same way adults get addicted to caffeine, the unborn baby gets habituated, if it's exposed to it every day, it can be born with jitters, failing to settle. I guess anyone who's ever been through caffeine withdrawal will know the symptoms and the baby's going through the same thing."

So that's four cups a day at most, any more is risky.

Don't forget that tea contains almost as much caffeine as coffee and sorry, more bad news, there's about 30 milligrams of caffeine in a chocolate bar, so bear that in mind too.

Taboo number eight: you can't dye your hair

This one's been doing the rounds for a while, that dying your hair can harm your baby. You'll be glad to know this one is false.

During a dying session, very little chemical is used, and it's certainly not enough to cause problems if it's absorbed by your skin.

Rest assured, if you can't live without your 'do' — you don't have to.

Taboo number nine: you can't eat sushi

This one's true and it's deadly serious. You really have to be careful about the microscopic bugs in what you eat.

"The latest germ to emerge is one called listeria monocytogenes, or listeria, and it's actually very common in takeaway food and common in raw food," says Clare.

Don't mess with listeriosis, it can cause miscarriages, premature babies and stillborn births.

"We're now advising women to wash their hands before food preparation, not to mix raw and cooked foods on their chopping boards, not to eat any food that's raw longer than 24 hours of having it in their refrigerator," she says.

Listeria's also found in smoked salmon, deli-style meats and raw milk products like soft cheeses. All of these are delicious, but avoid them during pregnancy.

Clare advises, "If you're eating cooked food, serve it hot enough that steam's rising and that will get in over the 70 degrees. If it's cold food, serve it from the refrigerator and that will get it down to four or five degrees which will limit food spoilage."

Are you a fish fan? Avoid any deep-sea fish like tuna, shark, king mackerel and swordfish. They contain high levels of mercury that can harm your baby.

Hopefully our taboo list has helped clear up an argument or two, as well as answered a few of those do's and don't, once and for all.

But bear in mind, every woman is different, so if you have any worries about your pregnancy, always see your doctor.

  • Mastitis is a painful condition common among breastfeeding mums — it's an inflammation of the breast caused by blocked milk ducts. An old wives' tale suggests the best cure is putting cabbage leaves on your breasts, but does it work? Funnily enough, many women find that cabbage leaves do work, they're cool and soothing on the skin, but don't apply them directly to the nipple. A better solution is an ice-pack wrapped in a wash cloth. And even though it's painful, do keep feeding, and if the condition lasts more than a day, see your GP.

  • We've all heard about Australia's declining birth rate. Australia's highest ever birth rate happened during the post-war baby boom in 1961 with 3.6 children per woman. These days, it's half that: 1.8, but that still means there's a new baby born every two minutes.

  • There are a million health reasons why smoking is far less glamorous than it looks, and that especially applies to pregnant women. The immediate dangers to the foetus are bad enough, but researchers have just discovered a harmful side effect, that could affect your child's health well into their teens, or beyond. A University of Queensland study has found the children of women who smoked while pregnant were 40 percent more likely to be obese by the time they'd reached their teens.

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